Science Shows Why Censoring Speech Fails

For the past few years, I’ve argued that political shock jocks and fringe right-wing speakers have become popular on college campuses because administrators and left-wing activists do their best to prevent them from speaking. It turns out this point is scientifically provable.

Influence by Dr. Robert Caldini is regarded as a seminal work in explaining our subconscious cues that leave us vulnerable to persuasion. One of the principles at work is that of scarcitywe tend to want something more if we can’t have it. This principle also applies to scarcity of ideas: if we learn that a certain viewpoint is being censored, then we become more sympathetic to it, even if we don’t know anything about it.

Caldini cites a study of University of North Carolina students who learned that a speech opposing coed dorms on campus would be censored. Those students became more sympathetic to the speaker’s argument without even hearing it. Caldini offers the following caution:

This raises the worrisome possibility that especially clever individuals holding a weak or unpopular position can get us to agree with that position by arranging to have their message restricted.

This intuitively makes sense. If we learn that someone wants to prevent us from learning a certain viewpoint, then wouldn’t it be natural for us to wonder what that person has to hide? Add the rebellious nature of college students into the equation and it should be no surprise that speakers who were generally unknown five years ago are now household names.

Categories: First Amendment and Free Speech.